What made you want to release a remix of “No Question” for Tokyo Rainbow Pride?
Taku: We had friends who were doing the event. We had released the song before. The song’s message had meaning in the community. The lyrics that LISA and VERBAL wrote were about being yourself, whoever that is. And they needed a theme song and someone suggested our song because they liked the message. And then it was remixed. We performed there too.
You think it’s important to spread Japanese music. That’s why you’re here. But how do you go about doing that when there are things like region blocking?
Taku: First of all, there still is some region blocking, but a lot of region blocking has gotten better. You’ve seen that, right?
Yes, it has gotten better.
Taku: TERIYAKI BOYZ is region blocked. But the only reason is because there is no TERIYAKI BOYZ staff anymore. But if someone tells the label, I think they’ll just open it. The whole thing was stupid to begin with.
VERBAL: Not to jump in, but this goes back to the “What did you learn in 20 years?” question. We’re a very international group, and we’ve always wanted to venture outside of Japan, but we found that very difficult from the get go. People telling us it was impossible. We had to prove ourselves. Like with LISA doing the music she wanted to do and some people telling her she shouldn’t. She just wanted to be herself. Taku was doing block.fm, while people were sneering at internet radio, saying “That’s so small, why would you want to do that? We have major radio!” But Japan’s radio scene is tiny, it’s not like here in the US. A&R’s at the label would say, “You can’t feature these international artists! Who’s going to talk to them?” and I said I would. And they said, “Yeah, right!” But when I did make them happen, it created a new precedent. We just have to change the notion that working globally is impossible. For them, region blocking is a way of protecting their own fort, and they also think working with overseas people is difficult or not possible. There was an interesting statistic, where they took a poll from 5000 people from major cities all over the world, asking what the coolest city was. I believe over 70% said Tokyo, but everyone in Tokyo said New York or Paris. For Japanese people, Tokyo was like #10 on the list. They don’t think of themselves as being cool. They are not proud enough to think they should appeal and project what they have. But when we go overseas and go back to Japan, we are reminded that we have so much going on in Japan! For example, when I come to Anime Expo, there are over 120,000 people who visit from all over, and they’re celebrating Japan, but there are barely any Japanese people there. Everyone is like, “Japan’s the shit!”, but this movement is unbeknownst to Japanese people, at least to the general public, and it’s not something picked up in mass media. Anime Expo was a culture shock and an eye-opener for me.
I’m reminded now of a talk I attended that your wife, Yoon (of AMBUSH) did, and she said that the Japanese fashion industry sometimes uses the language barrier as an excuse for not going overseas.
VERBAL: Just to add to what Yoon said, the Japanese fashion industry is quite insular. For example, editors and buyers will come to our exhibition and ask who the designer is. And when she tells them that she designs, they’ll ask who really designs it. Why would they do that? Japanese people are still stuck with a notion that women designers have to look a certain way, and because someone with her looks and vibe do not fit their mold and image of a “fashion designer.”
Yeah, when she walked in, everyone was like “Wow!” And when her talk was over, a lot of people left. She was the main attraction.
VERBAL: She definitely has a very strong persona, which resonates internationally, but in Japan there is this idea of what a designer “should” look like. Many are stuck with the stereotypes, and she happens to break every single one of them. She works really hard, and is usually up by 5 or 6AM and works till midnight, but she makes sure she looks good when she leaves the house. She designs, and masterminds everything from production to sales. She always wondered why people aren’t giving her the credit she’s due. We realized it’s because of this closed mindset.
Taku: Japan didn’t have to go abroad. We could make the money ourselves. I don’t want to go into the whole KPop thing again, but Korean people had to go abroad. Japan was content. We knew we were dying slowly. CD sales were going down, the industry was going down. It was sinking, but slowly. There was no need to spontaneously do something. But little by little… Ten years ago, I was saying this, and people didn’t get it. But now more people are understanding that we have to go outside of Japan. People are starting to think it’s not impossible. It’s a big challenge going to different countries, but there are fans, there are people who love what we do. The most important thing besides region blocking, is that we have to be here. We live in a different country, but we have to come here more often and get connected. That’s one thing that Japanese industry needs to do.
VERBAL: Just be here physically!
Taku: Although there is the internet, the experience means a lot.
VERBAL: This is telling. For example, there are people who still have reservations about having Skype meetings internationally. I kid you not! They asked me what I meant by “Skype meetings” so I told them it was like FaceTime. But instead of having a translator present to speak with people all over the world in real-time, people would shy away from these interactions. I do it all the time, so Japanese staff around me are accustomed to it, but many older people, even in the creative field, still feel a type of stigma regarding this matter, mainly because the music industry was thriving domestically and they never had to be in such situations.
Taku: Japan is conservative, not really for change. But once they get it…
VERBAL: They got some super, almost alien and next-level people, like Masayoshi Son, who’s all over the place. Like rocket scientist-level people out there killing it. But the general public seems to want to be in a comfort zone. The consensus is very conservative.